by Brandon Turbeville
April 6, 2012
Recently, CIA Director David Petraeus made headlines with a speech
given at the summit for In-Q-Tel, the CIA's venture capital firm.
In this talk, Petraeus discussed the
"internet of things" and the implications it will have for increased levels
of surveillance. Petraeus explained that, because of the rise of gadgets
which are connected and controlled by apps, intelligence agencies will no
longer need to place spy devices inside your home - you will do it for them.
In conjunction with a recent unveiling of a
new low-powered computer chip by
ARM, one of the world's largest chip companies, the fact is virtually every
piece of electronic equipment (including appliances) can be controlled via
apps and Internet-based systems.
It is for this reason that Petraeus stated that
the CIA will be able to read these devices via the Internet and even radio
waves outside of the home.
‘Transformational' is an overused word, but
I do believe it properly applies to these technologies.
Particularly to their effect on clandestine
tradecraft. Items of interest will be located, identified, monitored,
and remotely controlled through technologies such as radio-frequency
identification, sensor networks, tiny embedded servers, and energy
harvesters - all connected to the next-generation internet using
abundant, low-cost, and high-power computing.
He also added,
"the latter now going to cloud computing, in
many areas greater and greater supercomputing, and, ultimately heading
to quantum computing."
Of course, it is well-known that the CIA or any
other government agency is admitting to such a level of capability, the
truth is that this technology has been available for many years, even tested
and perfected long before the first hints were given to the general public.
But perhaps just as alarming as Petraeus' statements is the recent
announcement regarding the new models of Samsung televisions currently being
rolled out on the market. Indeed, if these new products are not a full blast
initiation into the world of George Orwell's 1984, then they are, at the
very least, half way there.
This is because Samsung's new line of LED HDTV's will now include built-in,
internally wired HD cameras, face tracking and speech recognition
capabilities, and twin microphones. In the 2012 8000-series plasmas, the
cameras and microphones are built directly into the screen bezel.
The 7500 - 8000ES-series TV's, however, will
have the cameras permanently attached to the top of the set.
Obviously, the new TV's, with their ability to access the Internet, will be
connected to Samsung's own software, but the sets will also be compatible
with "third party apps" in much the same manner as the appliances mentioned
above by Petraeus.
These TV's, via the built-in camera and face recognition software, locate
and record the faces of viewers while storing this information within the
software for future use. The idea is that the software, after logging the
different faces into the program, can then "personalize the experience" for
the individual viewers.
The TV's also come equipped with the ability to listen and respond to voice
commands. Naturally, the built-in microphones must be active in order to use
It should also be noted that these features, unlike the add-on accessories
that have come with television sets up to this point, cannot be removed
simply by unplugging a device by its cord or USB cable. Again, the devices
are built-in as part of the system itself.
As Gary Merson of HD GURU
writes, these new "features" bring with
them some important privacy concerns.
What concerns us is the integration of both
an active camera and microphone. A Samsung representative tells us you
can deactivate the voice feature; however this is done via software, not
a hard switch like the one you use to turn a room light on or off.
During our demo, unless the face recognition learning feature was
activated, there was no indication as to whether the camera (such as a
red light) and audio mics are on. And as far as the microphone is
concerned there is no way to physically disconnect it or be assured it
is not picking up your voice when you don't intend it to do so.
Merson also lists several questions about just
how much data is collected and how that data is intended to be used.
Can Samsung or Samsung-authorized
companies watch you watching your Samsung TV?
Do the televisions send a user ID or the
TV's serial number to the Samsung cloud whenever it has an Internet
Does Samsung cross reference a user ID
or facial scan to your warranty registration information, such as
name, address, etc.?
Can a person or company listen to you,
at will, via the microphone and Internet connection?
Does Samsung's cloud store all this
information? How secure is this extremely personal data?
Can a hacker intercept this data or view
you via the built in camera?
Can a third-party app program do any of
Exactly what information does the TV
send to Samsung or other parties?
Does Samsung intend to sell data
collected by its Smart TV owners, such as who, what and when one is
Of course, all of these questions are completely
legitimate. However, they still fall short of some of the bigger issues
involved with the introduction of the new models.
Yet, if the very idea of cameras and microphones embedded in their TV's does
not prevent the consumer purchasing these new sets to begin with, the fact
that the ability to "deactivate" the system is wholly inadequate should add
further motivation to abstain from the new Samsung models.
As Merson mentions, the cameras cannot be removed as they are built directly
in as part of the set. The only available means to avoid the camera facing
the viewers is to manually change the angle of the camera to point upward
toward the ceiling in the case of the LED sets.
In the plasma models, the camera can be,
"re-aimed to capture objects in the rear of
the TV according to a Samsung spokesperson."
But although the cameras can be shifted
manually, there is no such guarantee that the voice recognition software and
the built-in microphones have truly been turned off.
This is because there
is no manual shut-off option - the microphone can only be silenced by using
Samsung's own software. This, of course, leaves the user only the trust they
hold in the electronics manufacturer as a guarantee.
I don't know about you, but the word of a major corporation, coming on the
heels of an announcement by the CIA Director that the agency will soon be
spying on us through our ordinary household appliances, is simply not good
For instance, even if the cameras are turned to face another direction, what
guarantees do we have that there is no secondary device located somewhere
else inside the TV?
This might sound far-fetched at first, but, even
so, Samsung is doing nothing to allay these concerns. In fact, it took some
amount of controversy before they even released part of their privacy
agreement, even though the TV's have been on the shelves for weeks.
A notable section of the agreement reads:
We reserve the right to share all Personal
Data and non-Personal Data with any company within the Samsung
Electronics group of companies, or with any other company that operates
under the Samsung brand… Each of the Samsung Group Companies will use
your information in accordance with their own independent privacy
Notice that the terms "Personal Data" and "non-Personal Data" are not defined.
You also have to agree to the following statement in order to download your
owner's manual (since Samsung has stopped printing them).
Samsung assumes no responsibility, and shall
not be liable, in connection with whether any such products or services
will be appropriate, functional or supported for the Samsung products or
services available in your country.
Could "appropriate" uses include that of
surveillance? We have yet to know the answer to this question because
Samsung refuses to answer it.
Furthermore, in order to "deactivate" the Smart TV microphone, you must use
the Samsung software which, in turn, must log in to the Samsung Cloud in
order to be utilized. Therefore,
the Cloud exists as a virtual backdoor that
leads directly to the TV set in your living room, microphones and all.
Since the Cloud is merely part of the Internet,
this leaves the innermost parts of your home easily accessible to hackers
and, even more concerning, to the government.
This is nothing to scoff at.
The fact is that
the government, not to mention
corporations interested in data marketing, have a vested and concerted
interest at acquiring, storing, and centralizing data belonging to every
human being both within and without their borders. Indeed, the accessibility
of such data is already at the fingertips of whatever agency wishes to take
advantage of it.
This is a program which they are no doubt
As I wrote in my article, "New Report: ‘Recording Everything' Details How
Governments Can Shape The Dynamics Of Dissent," within the next few years,
it will be possible for the intelligence wing of the U.S. government to
collect, store, and centralize every type of data in existence on every
human being in the country, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for one year
for a total cost ranging in the few hundred thousands.
And this is only what has been announced. It
doesn't include the secret black projects that currently remain under wraps
or the fact that
these programs have been
ongoing for years.
Not only that, but with the open desire by the U.S. government to create a
Total Information Awareness network, as well as the legal infrastructure
such as the Patriot Act and other
Brother legislation, a climate has been created where all of the
data acquired by Smart TVs will inevitably be soaked into this government
Not only that, the snooping infrastructure is
such that one can assume that every piece of information that finds its way
into the Cloud will not eventually find its way to a centralized government
database, but will do so immediately.
The fact is, while even those few individuals who are still concerned with
their privacy complain about their constant loss of it, the all-too-familiar
warning of our descent into a world spoken of in George Orwell's
1984 is often
repeated ad nauseam.
However, the truth is that the warnings of our
becoming an Orwellian police state someday "in the near future" can now
cease to be uttered.
The time for worry over the United States becoming a society of total
surveillance has passed. The truth is, whether the average American will
admit it or not, the United States already is an Orwellian society.
At least we now know the reason why the Federal government mandated all
televisions to go digital.